We shouldn't ask: what does a person need to know or be able to do in order to fit into the existing social order? Instead we should ask: what lives in each human being and what can be developed in him or her? Only then will it be possible to direct the new qualities of each emerging generation into society. Society will then become what young people, as whole human beings, make out of the existing social conditions. The new generation should not just be made to be what present society wants it to become!

— Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf Education

Waldorf education started in 1919 in Germany as a free school for employees of the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory. Inspired by Rudolf Steiner, it is one of the fastest growing independent school movements in the world, with more than 600 Waldorf Schools worldwide, and more than 120 in the United States and Canada. It places as much emphasis on creativity and moral judgement as it does on intellectual growth. Steiner believed that schools should encourage freedom of thought and creativity rather than serve the demands of Government or Industry. His education is an “application of learning based on the study of humanity with developing consciousness of self and the surrounding world.” (Anthroposophy at Work)

In a High School, all the same academic subjects would be offered as any other school, such as Calculus or other Advanced Placement college level classes,as well as Eurythmy* and other Waldorf-specific classes. There is no longer a class teacher, rather a class ‘guardian’ who is associated with the class and will teach them in some classes. The main lesson blocks are now given over to intense study of specific subjects taught by teachers with expertise in those areas. The curriculum is still balanced between academic and artistic and practical activities, with art, music, and languages, for instance, still receiving high priority.

    Waldorf education is thoroughly connected with the oral tradition, hence teachers tell fairy tales in Kindergarten, moving through mythologies and bible stories and other epic stories in the middle grades. Reading and writing are not rushed, and are learned slowly after first gaining acquaintance with the alphabet artistically. In fact, all academics are de-emphasized in the beginning. Nevertheless, by high school, students are on equal footing, academically and in standardized tests, with students at State schools.

    The upper school curriculum is, like that of the lower school, related to the child’s development. There is also continued concern to keep their education as broad as possible.

    It is the animal which rushes headlong into some special function, running, climbing, burrowing, or swimming, with its appropriate form of body and limb: the man holds back, and preserves a physical structure adapted to none of these things, but capable of them all. He is the least specialized of all the creatures of the earth. (Harwood)

    * Eurythmy is a flowing, colorful, dance-like movement that interprets the sounds and rhythms of speech or music. It is practiced by children in Waldorf (Steiner) schools, as well as by professional performing Eurythmists. Eurythmy is also utilized as a curative movement system and is used to help heal many ailments, from dyslexia to sciatica to headaches.

Some subjects taught in Waldorf High School

9th Grade is concerned with bringing the knowledge of forces that shaped the modern life—the solutions and the problems—and fostering the latent idealism of adolescents.
Modern History
Industrial Revolution: Newton
Science: How rather than what; Heat engine, telephone
Visual Arts: History of Art (Greece, Rome, Middle Ages to Enlightenment)
English Literature, Poetry
Mathematics: Mathematical proofs, probability, statistics, irrational numbers, regular solids
Geography of the whole earth.

10th Grade:
Ancient world history: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece to Hellenistic times
Drama: Greek dramas, epics; Shakespeare
Science: The Earth and what it is composed of
Geography of climate, vegetation, distribution of animals, races
Chemistry: Salt-acid-base makeup of world
Mathematics: Arithmetic, Transcendental numbers, Trigonometry, Logarithms (growth in nature)
Geometry: Conic sections, ellipse to parabola to hyperbola relations to infinity.

11th and 12th Grade are concerned with looking at what the world is.
History: Christianity and the western world, relations to nature of world view and meaning of life.
Legend of Arthur and the Holy Grail
Economics: Laissez-faire, Socialism
Literature and history of own country
Sciences: modern science & other approaches (ie Steiner’s)
Electricity: Radar, Radio, Television
Light: modern view, Colors: Goethe
Botany: Single cell organisms, cell structure

12th Grade:
Zoology: evolution of animal forms
Archecture: relation to human body

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One of the classrooms in the Santa Cruz Waldorf School,
seen from the back. The walls are painted with veils
of overlapping pink.

Waldorf schools (referred to as Steiner schools in other parts of the world) are organized according to Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about how children develop. There is no central administrative organization for all the schools; each one is run as an independent entity, although there are organizations which provide materials and contacts between them. Subjects are taught in blocks as well as an on ongoing basis, returning in more depth each time the subject is covered.

The curriculum integrates academics, and artistic activity, to awaken a student’s “reverence for beauty and goodness as well as truth.”(Spirit of the Waldorf School) Each class has a class teacher who travels, so to speak, from first through eighth grade with the same class. She will teach the Main

Lesson, which is a large block of time at the beginning of each day, in which one subject is discussed in depth for a number of weeks. The remainder of the day is organized into much smaller class periods for the subjects that are taught on a regular basis.